Too much Licca spoils Port

Collingwood’s 50 Most Sensational Games

2002 Qualifying final

Collingwood     5.3.33   9.6.60   13.9.87    16.12.108
Port Adelaide   3.1.19   8.3.51    12.6.78    14.11.95

VENUE: AAMI Stadium
DATE: Friday 3 September
CROWD: 33,131
UMPIRES: Allen, Avon, Goldspink

COLLINGWOOD
B Johnson Wakelin Burns
HB Clement Prestigiacomo Cloke
C Lockyer O’Bree L Davis
HF Didak A Rocca Fraser
F Molloy Tarrant Betheras
FOLL McKee, Licuria, Scotland
INT N Davis, Lonie, Freeborn, Steinfort
COACH Malthouse

PORT ADELAIDE
B Wanganeen Paxman Guerra
HB Bishop Wakelin Montgomery
C Schofield Stevens Carr
HF Dew C Cornes Schofield
F P Burgoyne Kingsley S Burgoyne
FOLL Primus, Francou, James
INT K Cornes, French, Poulton, Mead
COACH Williams

BEST
COLLINGWOOD – Licuria, O’Bree, McKee, Lonie, Burns, Betheras
PORT ADELAIDE– Francou, N Stevens, James, C Cornes, P Burgoyne, Primus.

GOALS
COLLINGWOOD – L Davis 3, Rocca 2, Betheras 2, Lonie 2, N Davis 2, McKee, Steinfort, Burns, Didak, O’Bree
PORT ADELAIDE – Dew 3, P Burgoyne 3, S Burgoyne 2, C Cornes, N Stevens, French, Carr, Schofield, K Cornes.

PRE-MATCH
As the finals drew closer, the great momentum developed through the 2002 season by the burgeoning Magpie fledglings began to unravel. After securing a finals birth with a savage 108 point drubbing of Carlton in Round 18, losses to Hawthorn, Essendon and the Western Bulldogs in the last month saw the ‘Pies scrape into a lucky fourth with just 13 wins. And the one victory amid the downturn was precarious – a totally unconvincing 11 point win over also-rans St Kilda.

Collingwood traveled to AAMI Stadium for its first finals game in eight years with nothing to lose. The Woods’ form was so poor that ladder leaders Port Adelaide were nearly unbackable. At least the ground held no fears, having defeated Adelaide at AAMI Stadium in Round 14 after falling just five points short of Port in Round 9. And that match provided added motivation in the form of Kane Cornes’ dubious post-game antics. But as a counterpoint, Port boasted an unblemished home record for the season.

Nathan Buckley had waited eight frustrating years to play another final, yet he was to miss through an injured hamstring. Bucks intimated the plan was to utilise a man-on-man approach, as tried previously and to which Hawthorn employed successfully against Port in the 2001 finals series. Malthouse made no bones about Buckley’s unavailability at the Monday press conference, whilst reminding Port they had yet to break their finals duck. Power wore the pressure of expectation and Mark Williams was showing it during the week. Oddly, Port now seemed to be the ones on the back foot.

THE GAME
Of crucial importance to Collingwood was handling the first ten minutes well. It was quickly evident something remarkable was in the wind, for the Magpies made all the early running. Betheras was front and square at the fall of the ball and kicked a ripper across his body to settle the nerves. After French posted the first for Port, McKee replied with a six-pointer. Burgoyne snagged another for the Power before Rocca pounced on an errant pass, and after a jaunting run, hoofed a thumping 55 metre goal. All kinds of possibilities beckoned! Betheras found himself last in line on a chain of handpasses and snapped another from closer range. Port jagged a couple back before Nick Davis showed great skill to snaffle Hardwick’s spilled marking attempt, successfully turning onto his left from 45 metres out. The Power’s demons were epitomised by Tredrea’s miss from just beyond the goal square. Collingwood’s relentless pressure, real or imagined, made Port players fumble and miss targets, a pattern that continued throughout the game.

  
Betheras snaps the Pies’ first major, Rocca the longest

Within 60 seconds of the resumption, Lonie burst forward to set the ‘Pies off and running again, banging home a trademark goal outside 50 metres. Quickly, Leon Davis emulated his namesake, confidently playing on and spearing through a 45 metre goal on his left. After just five minutes the margin had blown out to 27 points. Peter Burgoyne and Schofield reigned in the deficit for Port. Steinfort short circuited the Power’s resistance with a long one, but Burgoyne hit a purple patch to twice kick truly, followed by another by Stevens. Lonie kicked a much needed steadier at the 25-minute mark to give the Magpies a nine point buffer at the end of the half.

Chad Cornes kick started Port after the long break, however Leon, followed by Nick Davis, responded in kind. O’Bree extended the margin to 21 points and Port was faced with some heavy lifting to avert an inglorious defeat. Again Port summoned a big effort and booted three majors, only interrupted by a goal to Burns. Peter Burgoyne appeared to have goaled just before the siren, however the umpires deemed the ball was touched – the half time difference of nine points restored.

Rocca emphatically put the acid on Port with a booming goal from outside 50 metres to relaunch the Magpies, but again the Power refused to roll over. Port threatened but could do no better than three consecutive behinds. Sean Burgoyne then fluffed a simple goal when he impetuously played on and was caught by Johnson. Collingwood rebounded all the way, Didak hooking a goal over his shoulder to edge the ‘Pies closer to victory, almost half way into the final term. Then Dew, ever dangerous near goal, booted two in a minute and again the game turned in an instant. Two more attempts by Chad Cornes and Francou should have seen Port hit the lead, yet only a goal separated the teams. Play continued in desperate fashion, a Didak point being more than handy in the circumstances with 24 minutes elapsed. The clock wound down ever so slowly for Collingwood, until Leon Davis snapped a clever low trajectory goal from an angle. It was party time, Goliath had been slayed.

  
Rocca bends with the ball and the Collingwood contingent celebrate.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Just before three quarter time, Peter Burgoyne scored what appeared to be a team lifting goal to bring the margin back to within a kick. Jason Cloke claimed a touch and surprisingly the umpires agreed, and the difference was instead nine points. Given the fragile state of the game, and perhaps Port Adelaide’s fraught sensibilities, this was an unlucky break it could ill-afford.

An enduring image of the game, and perhaps Collingwood’s season, occurred on the Magpies last line of defence during the frantic last quarter. After costing his side two goals just prior to half time through horrendous defensive errors, Ben Johnson’s first final was fast becoming a nightmare. Fast forward to the last quarter, Collingwood was under intense pressure from a pressing Port Adelaide team desperate to salvage its honour. When Sean Burgoyne outpointed Johnson in the goal mouth, the rest seemed a foregone conclusion. For some inexplicable reason, Burgoyne played on, not realizing Johnson was right there. Johnson’s desperate grasp for Burgoyne’s jumper stopped him in his tracks. Spun around, Burgoyne was unable to connect boot to ball sufficiently to cover the paltry five metres required to goal. Johnson recovered the ball and the Magpies cleared through Wakelin, taking the ball the length of the field for what would be a significant two goal turnaround.

    
‘He’s behind you!’ Johnson’s memorable tackle; Leon kicks the sealer

AFTERMATCH
The crowd was disappointing in size, and more so filthy on the result – bar the thousand or so delirious and intrepid Magpie diehards whose dedication was rewarded.

Collingwood’s triumph was as unlikely as the rationale behind it. Primus failed to match McKee’s intensity, so a perceived weakness was turned to the Magpies’ advantage. Meanwhile, Port’s champion forward, Warren Tredrea, failed to kick a goal and was superbly blanketed by Prestigiacomo. Betheras was another to rise to the occasion, flying under Port’s radar. O’Bree and Lonie ably supported Licuria, and as expected, Burns took care of business in his usual no-fuss manner. For the Power, apart from Stevens and Francou (in the first half), there were far too many passengers. Most satisfyingly, Kane Cornes barely troubled the statisticians. Notably, just 19 frees were paid for the whole game, the ‘Pies slightly favoured 11 – 8.

From rank outsider, all of a sudden Collingwood was in a position of power, and the whole complexion of the finals was turned on its head. A home Preliminary final was the deserved prize for the ‘Pies extraordinary effort. More than anything, the impetus gained from winning The Club’s first final in 12 years was priceless.

  
Malthouse in familiar post match grimace of relief; the absent, proud skipper congratulates his comrades.

The Hero
Paul Licuria (Collingwood)

Paul Licuria was born and raised in Collingwood’s northern suburbs’ heartland Reservoir. So it was fitting that having experienced two knee reconstructions and just 10 games in three frustrating years in Sydney that the devoted Magpie fan was granted an opportunity in the black and white stripes. The words ‘Licuria’ and ‘battler’ would become synonymous. A massive heart and work ethic would finally see his career blossom in 2001. That year a Copeland Trophy was due reward for Licca’s persistence, and another in 2002 recompense for his consistency and maturity.

Widely dismissed as an honest trier with average skills, Licuria’s 40 possession game on Brownlow runner-up-to-be Josh Francou forced even his harshest critics to re-evaluate. A humble Licuria suggested that Francou had given him a ‘touch-up’ in the first quarter. Certainly, the loose Francou failed to pay his opponent due respect in the second half. Licca’s tenacity was inspirational and instrumental to a memorable victory.

POSTSCRIPT
Port was again exposed for their mental fragility in finals. Mark Williams and his team was heavily derided, having lost all four finals matches the club had ever contested, including their past two at home after Hawthorn beat them in the 2001 Semi final at AAMI Stadium. The choker tag grew legs when Port crashed out of the finals race, and again the following year having finished the season on top once more. A loss to Sydney in the 2003 Qualifying final rivaled the corresponding game in 2002 for shock value. Not until 2004 did the Power finally fulfill their potential, when they stopped the Lions quest to equal Collingwood’s enduring record of four-in-a-row Premierships.

The 2002 Qualifying final proved to be one of the most decisive in the history of the final eight system. All of a sudden Essendon’s anticipated home Semi final against Collingwood became an away final against a brooding Power seeking redemption. And there was criticism of the system which afforded Collingwood a rails run to the Grand final based on one performance. But the way the team performed in the Preliminary final against Adelaide, and the Grand final against Brisbane, vindicated their presence on the big stage.

WHAT THEY SAID
“We all never thought at any time during the whole day that we were going to win. Not until Magic (Davis) kicked that last goal and the runner came out and told us there was only 10 seconds to go in the game was I comfortable we were going to hold on.”
Man of the moment, Paul Licuria.

“Momentum is a strange animal. If you haven’t got it, it doesn’t matter how good you are, sometimes it just falls away and you don’t know where it comes from. We’ve got a bit of momentum up now and if that can stay with us, and the belief is with us as well, we don’t know how far we can go.”
Coach Mick Malthouse could sense the makings of a spectacular finals campaign.

“You can call it a choke if you like, but you play a game of football and you need to not turn the ball over. If you want to write choke, you can write choke, but once again the game’s happened, we’ll address it and we’ll move on to next week.”
Port full back Stephan Paxman does little to refute the chokers tag.

“They are acutely aware of the sacrifices they have made and what is in store in the next couple of weeks…We’ll just savour this one…I want them to enjoy the victory, but not believe for one moment that is the end of it. This will be a good test now to see if we can hang on.”
Malthouse recognises the achievement, and the hard earned opportunity ahead.

“They just said we couldn’t win, that we had no hope, and we were just damn lucky to be in a finals series. So that just motivated us, and we knew deep down we were in with a great chance.”
Licuria speaks for the playing group who resented a dismissive media and public.

“We may talk to them and we may be a big brother for them. They’re just orphans and we might just be their foster parents… that’s if it happens.”
Not just satisfied beating Port on the field, McGuire stirs their pot off it – referring to a rumored feud between the Power and its foundation club, the Port Adelaide Magpies.

“Yes, Eddie contacted me post match. Neither of us had heard anything but the club may choose to formally complain on Monday.”
AFL spokesman Patrick Keane confirms the Magpie president had a full head of steam owing to the parochial footage portrayed on the big scoreboard at the ground.

“You’re asking the wrong person because I love Paul Licuria. Paul Licuria is one of the best role models any of our players can look to.”
The closeness between Malthouse and Licuria has been likened to a father and son, as would be demonstrated just a few weeks later.

“We sang that song with so much passion. Trainers, officials, players, we all just sang and it felt so good so deep down.”
Paul Licuria recalls the aftermatch euphoria, a highlight of his first final.

Collingwood’s 50 Most Sensational Games
An ebook by Jeff Dowsing

About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.

Comments

  1. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    That was a classic Jeff. I remember wanting to jump through the TV and strangle Ben Johnson for his bloody clangers…and then he laid a matchwinning tackle on Burgoyne..all was forgiven. That was the first final we’d won since the 90 GF so it was a huge celebration at my place.

  2. Jeff Dowsing says:

    Thanks Phil – I remember watching this at a mate’s place and after jumping around and doing a jig we sat down a bit stunned, trying to absorb what just happened.

    AAMI Stadium has been pretty kind to the Pies over the years. It’s going to take a similarly heroic effort on Saturday to get over Port.

  3. Dave Nadel says:

    Excellent description, Jeff, and some significant post match quotes, I enjoyed our victory at the time, which, like you and Phil I watched on TV. I probably enjoyed it more than I did the Prelimimary Final victory over Adelaide which I saw at the MCG. The difference being that I hadn’t expected us to beat Port but I was fairly confident that Adelaide was on the way out. Thanks for the article, Jeff.

  4. No worries Dave – I was also at the ‘G for the Prelim and the 3rd quarter was magic. Watched it again last weekend as therapy (scored the ’02 Triple Pack from Dimmeys the other day for $3!!) 2002 was one hell of a ride with one hellish ending.

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